The unlikely rise of Southampton F.C. to the fourth spot in the Premier League standings further encapsulates a start to the season which might pan out to be one of the most open Premier League in recent years.
The last few years have pretty much been a two way or at best, a three-way struggle to lift the trophy. This season, Arsenal sits comfortably at the top of the table with no signs of slowing down. Liverpool is breathing down their neck and Southampton are two spots below.
While one would probably laugh at the possibility of Southampton, a club which was elevated to the Premier League status just two years ago, finishing in the top half of the table, it certainly does look possible. Or at the very least, it’s an interesting idea to banter about.
Last season, Southampton proved they were no mere pushovers with a bunch of upsets. They seem like a regular party-pooper, creating just enough ruckus to make sure that they gain a little bit of attention. In this calendar year, Southampton’s “upsets” are as follows: Southampton defeated Manchester City 3-1, they beat Liverpool and Chelsea in back to back games of 3-1 and 2-1 respectively. This season, the only major team they played against was Liverpool, against whom they triumphed 1-0.
While it’s too early to say that Southampton is a team on the rise, or that they might develop into a top 5 team in the next five to ten years, we can say one thing for sure: They’re certainly exciting to watch at the moment.
Southampton is similar to a little baby in unfamiliar surroundings: not knowing what exactly to do, but learning fast. Not knowing what’s right and wrong, not knowing what’s expected of them, but doing whatever takes to their fancy. This season however, the baby’s grown older. It has started to understand what it should do to have a better time.
The signing of Italian Striker Dani Olvado for €15 million proves just that. They also signed Dejan Lovren, a centre back from Lyon and Victor Wanyama, a holding midfielder from the Celtics. Wanyama also captains the Kenyan National Team. They spent €27 million, certainly a large amount of money for a small team, but bought three players who greatly improve three of their key liabilities.
In order to survive in a competitive league like the EPL, a team needs to know what it’s falling short in, and plug the holes in it’s ship during the transfer season. And Southampton has done just that.
They have a formidable strike pair in Osvald and Rickie “Goal Machine” Lambert. Their midfield is sort of a liability, as it lacks creativity. However, they have a strong defensive unit with new signings Wanyama and Lovren aiding Maya Yoshida and Luke Shaw.
They have a capable manager in Mauricio Pochettino who believes his team has what it takes to survive in the premier league. He relishes the thought of playing against bigger clubs. He loves the fact that they’re underdogs and considers every game a new experience through which his players can learn to withstand great expectations. His attitude is probably one of the main reasons why Southampton is performing well at the moment.
Following a two-week break for the World Cup qualifiers, Southampton play against Manchester United, and to make matters worse, at Old Trafford.
One would expect the manager of a team like Southampton to tremble at the thought of playing at OT, but Pochettino loves the challenge.
I always look forward to this kind of pressure in my career, it is what I thrive on, what I relish. The players need to be a lot more self-demanding, very ambitious and learn how to withstand the great expectation that is being placed on them.
But let’s focus on reality for a second. Southampton has played six of it’s seven games against usually-relegation threatened or bottom half teams. They have managed to “get past” most of them, while having decimated none. The closest they came to decimating an opponent was during their last two games. A 2-0 win against both Swansea and Crystal Palace.
However, their win against Liverpool, an in-form team, and certainly a much stronger team when compared to Southampton, is bound to have increased their optimism. United’s dismal form would add to their optimism and expectations. While nobody, even themselves, would expect them to take home a win against United at Old Trafford, we can expect The Saints to go down fighting.
Will Southampton finish in the top 5 this season? Probably not. Top 10? Maybe, if they can keep up their form and if major powerhouses keep falling to lesser teams. But it’s still too early to decide. Teams like Southampton will play well in the beginning, but the table only starts to tell a story 15-20 games in. The two teams from Manchester and Chelsea still remain favourites.
But it’s teams like Southampton which continually remind us that nothing can be taken for granted. It’s because of teams like these that football is this exciting.